Years of complaining and hand-wringing about blight and eyesores in Deltona’s neighborhoods and commercial zones may soon come to an end.
“What is the first thing people say? ‘We need this city cleaned up,’” Mayor Heidi Herzberg said. “I’m tired of the years, years and years of listening to this.”
Upon the recommendation of Acting City Manager John Peters, the City Commission ratified a contract with a long-time police officer to head up efforts to correct violations of Deltona’s building, property-maintenance and aesthetic codes.
O’Grady will reset Deltona’s code-enforcement efforts.
“Everybody should get a warning,” John O’Grady told the commission. “If you don’t take care of that, we have a process. … You go to the special magistrate if they don’t comply.”
The “special magistrate” is attorney William Reischmann, who is retained by Deltona to serve as a hearing officer for code cases. In some instances, Deltona’s code violations are tried in Volusia County Court.
O’Grady comes to Deltona with some questions about his past career, specifically his tenure as police chief and public-safety director in Mount Dora. In his capacity as police chief, O’Grady oversaw code enforcement. As public safety director, O’Grady also was in charge of Mount Dora’s fire department.
He was terminated in July 2019 for allegedly making ethnically insensitive remarks and for creating a hostile work environment for some of the employees in the police department.
“I knew the allegations were false,” O’Grady said. “The findings were determined to be unfounded.”
He and Mount Dora city officials subsequently entered into a non-disclosure agreement that limits discussion of the circumstances leading up to his separation from employment.
O’Grady became Mount Dora’s police chief in 2013, following 26 years of service in the Orlando Police Department, where he had risen to the rank of captain.
Peters spoke up for O’Grady as the person best suited to handle Deltona’s code-enforcement efforts.
“I know the man very well,” Peters said. “John O’Grady is the man that can take this city in the direction on code enforcement we have talked about.”
Peters described O’Grady as filling “a short-term position for code enforcement.” O’Grady is to work 32 hours per week between now and Oct. 1, and Deltona will pay him $67.50 per hour. That is a weekly salary of $2,160, before deductions.
“He gets no benefits at all,” Peters said.
O’Grady will have a city-issued computer and a cell phone.
Deltona is getting a bargain, according to Peters, “a very fair deal.”
“For a typical public-servant consultant, you’re expected to pay about $100 an hour,” Peters said.
O’Grady will report to Peters.
City officials say they want to move from “reactive” — responding to complaints — to “proactive” code enforcement.
Proactive code enforcement means the city’s code officers would patrol the streets on the lookout for violations and issue notices to residents or business owners to correct them within a limited time.
“For four-and-a-half years, the biggest complaint I have heard is code enforcement, code enforcement, code enforcement,” Vice Mayor Anita Bradford said.
On a side note, Peters told the City Commission he is talking with Volusia County about taking over Deltona’s animal-control responsibilities. He said Deltona’s code-enforcement personnel — already handling complaints about building, zoning, property and permitting — are also involved in picking up stray animals.
“We’re trying to do too many things with the same people,” Peters said.
Peters also proposes to “rebrand” Deltona’s code enforcement to emphasize “compliance.” Further, Peters said, he wants “the demilitarization of code enforcement,” meaning code officers would shed their “SWAT-style clothing for polo shirts.”
That change in dress may also require a change of attitude on the part of code officers who may be tempted to abuse their authority by talking harshly to those who may not be in compliance.
O’Grady promised he will “make sure code enforcement understands they are talking to residents, customers.”
“We have a bad reputation for our code enforcement,” Commissioner Dana McCool said. “We have a toxic environment.”
Deltona now has 14 code officers. The city has seven-day-per-week code enforcement.
As he begins his new duties, Peters said he wants to schedule neighborhood meetings.
“We need to know what the public wants,” he said.
Deltona’s new effort to improve code enforcement comes as city officials say neglected or rundown property, oftentimes including rental homes, have become sites for more serious lawlessness.
“There is a correlation between crime and code enforcement,” Herzberg said.
On Feb. 15, the City Commission approved the contract between Deltona and O’Grady with a 5-2 vote. Commissioners Maritza Avia-Vazquez and David Sosa dissented.
While O’Grady will be watching for unlicensed businesses or contracting, along with non-permitted construction or renovation, piles of trash or debris, and lots with high grass or weeds, Peters says Deltona’s most common code violation involves improper parking of vehicles, boats and trailers.